Council Tax frozen in York

… Green Councillors and Tory turncoat vote through massive cuts in public services

The Labour budget was tonight passed as once again the 2 Green Councillors sided with Labour. 

On this occasion they were joined by Cllr Watt who was elected in 2011 as a Conservative for the Skelton area. He supported a budget which will cripple public services in the City while continuing to prioritise “vanity” projects paid for by a large increase in borrowing. It was a truly astonishing policy somersault.

The only significant “concession” that the Greens won in return for their votes was a promise to provide a “free” bus service between the station and the hospital. The £150,000 cost will be paid for by another big increase in car parking charges in central York (by 10p per hour).

NB. Bus passengers can currently use the number 1 or 6 to get from the station to the hospital, although the passengers numbers using this link are modest

The Greens rapidly diminishing credibility took another battering as they voted for a cuts package which includes so called “rewiring savings”. These will see basic public services like grass cutting, street sweeping and community centres hit hard.

Labour plan to charge for emptying all green bins and  have supported reducing grey bin emptying frequencies to once very 3 or 4 weeks.

The Greens also voted to spend even less than Labour proposed on dealing with icy roads in winter.

The only really original proposal put to the meeting – the plan aimed at regenerating York’s deteriorating housing estates – failed to get majority support.

However there is every chance that after the local elections on May 7th, the new Labour/Green coalition will be thrown out.

This will allow the new Council to rejig the budget if it chooses to do so.




Congestion Commission plan under spotlight

Opposition Councillors have called in Labour’s £135,000 plan to establish a “Congestion Commission” in the City. The move means that an all party committee will decide whether the scheme will go ahead now or whether an alternative, providing better value for taxpayers, might be substituted after May’s elections.

The rethink request has the support of LibDem, Tory, Independent and Independent Labour Councillors.

The position of the two Green Councillors – who increasingly vote with Labour – is unclear.

It is an important consideration as, despite only holding 23 of the 47 council seats, the Green/Labour alliance has a majority on the committee which decides “calling in” applications.

The expectation, that the majority view on the Council (since it became “balanced” in October) would prevail, has been undermined by the new alliance.

 Initially an inquiry into the Lendal Bridge fiasco was rejected, then the Greens sided with Labour in favour of “safeguarding” parts of the Green Belt for development and, most recently, they voted through the use of the Guildhall as a “digital media centre“.

The extent of the Greens confusion on the latter issue can be seen by a justification written by one of their Councillors on the web. He compares the Guildhall to the Barbican claiming that the media centre project is the only way of preventing it falling into disuse and decay.

His comparison with the Barbican is mostly based on a selective, and inaccurate, recall of history. The main reason that building was empty for several years was because of legal action, taken by a group of residents, to try to prevent the building being sold to the private sector.

There may be a clue there for the future of the Guildhall. With the published plans showing “workstations” being established in the old Guildhall itself, the associated  infrastructure work is highly likely to prompt similar legal action.  

Labour’s plan for the Guildhall also includes a bar and restaurant – the kind of uses that could only exacerbate the “party city” issues which afflict the center of York.

The planned £1.8 million overhaul of the Mansion House will attract more tourists to the area. They will expect to be able to access the historic Guildhall.

Much better, in our view, therefore to redevelop the 60’s office block (currently hidden from view) and use the revenue generated from that to sustain the fabric of the listed building, while ensuring continued public access.

So why are the Greens supporting Labour policies?

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The reason is that they see the most likely wards in which they can make progress (and the biggest threat to their retaining their Fishergate stronghold) are those with Labour Councillors. They have their eyes on Micklegate and Guildhall. If they can reduce the number of issues on which there is open policy conflict they hope that the, largely untested, Green candidates will be the default choice for left leaning voters wanting to  reject the unpopular, or ailing, sitting Councillors. 

They hope to deflect attention away from their more extreme policies (they were bigger fans of the Lendal bridge closure and the introduction of indiscriminate 20 mph speed limits than many of their Labour counterparts).

So the majority of the Council will opt for a two stage approach to setting up a congestion policy review.

The first phase – in the lead up to May’s Council elections – would be to establish what is the most appropriate structure, consider options for membership and begin to gather, up to date, traffic data.

The real work could only begin after May 7th – by which time all of the existing members of the York Council may have lost their seats.

Democracy in the City faces a major test at the meeting taking place on 23rd February